Friday, 27 February 2015

Shortie Stakeout

This afternoon was spent waiting for Short-Eared Owls at Prestwick Carr, an area which has reportedly had the birds coming out earlier each day and owling word had clearly spread as many other birders also flocked along the lane.
After about 90 minutes of scanning and waiting, we had the first Shortie, followed swiftly by another, and another and another!! Four birds in total were seen to be quartering the fields for prey in the last remaining light and as I left in near darkness their ominous silhouettes could still be made out in the distance.

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Coastal Shorties

This afternoon I took a drive up the Northumberland coast in search of Short-Eared Owls that had been reported hunting on coastal dunes. After a 40 minute chilled drive in the afternoon sun I arrived at my destination and on my first scan of the area with my bin's I spotted my first Owl!!
It was phenomenal getting to see diurnal hunting Short-Eared Owls on the Northumbrian coast, and not just one but three!! After a solid 25-30 minutes of activity, with the birds quatering the grassy slopes in search of prey, the birds began being mobbed by corvids. One of the Owls ended up flying at a great height to prevent mobbed attack and soon all three birds dropped into the dunes.
After 15 minutes or so the birds reappeared, not as confiding as earlier mind and seemingly further apart than before.
What a treat, spending a couple of hours relaxing under the afternoon sun watching Shorties hunting and having a bit crack with a few birders. Magic!

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Prestwick Carr; 25th February

Prestwick Carr was on the agenda for birding today, situated a ten minute drive west of Cramlington and a stones throw from Newcastle Airport, its an area of rough grassland, country lanes and scattered plantations of scrub. 
I parked up at the eastern entrance of the bumpy road, and walked westward along the lane. The hedges were full of songbird activity, particularly around the feeding stations which have been put up. 
In one of the fields to the south I spotted a bird perched on the very highest branch of a hawthorn bush, looking very shrike like. I believe it was a Great Grey Shrike, but because it was so far away and I didn't have my telescope I wouldn't want to assume it incase it wasn't.
Around the platform a mixed flock of Reed Bunting & Yellowhammer flew through the hedge lines and picked at the seed below the feeders whilst North of Mayfair Cottage a pair of Buzzards were calling and soaring overhead.

Male Chaffinch
A complete species list of the birds I seen on my jaunt around Prestwick Carr can be found below.

  • Kestrel
  • Buzzard
  • Reed Bunting
  • Yellowhammer
  • Great Tit
  • Blue Tit
  • Coal Tit
  • Willow Tit
  • Robin 
  • Dunnock
  • Chaffinch
  • Goldcrest
  • Blackbird
  • Great Spotted Woodpecker
  • Wren
  • Teal
  • Lapwing
  • + 2 Roe Deer

Little Bit Of Bread....No Cheese !

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Patch Birding; 23rd / 24th Feb.

Not something I expected to see over the patch.

The past couple of days I have spent my birding time on my local patch; Arcot Pond & SSSI Grasslands, Cramlington.
I find patch birding to be the most rewarding type of birding, watching the seasonal change and the shift in activity is much more gratifying than travelling here, there and everywhere twitching rarities.

Twitching can be great fun, though I rarely do it myself, but lets be honest your always just chasing a glimpse at another birders sloppy seconds. Which is fine, everybody has a different way in which they like to birdwatch and in most cases your only going to see that bird in that place because its not going to come looking for you. 
I myself prefer to stay local or at least within a forty five minute drive from home, I would definitely consider myself more of a patch birder.That feeling you get when you discover a rarity yourself is exhilarating and made even better if discovered on your patch. That being said I wish a rarity would turn up on the patch, its all been very quiet lately.

23rd February, 2015

An incredibly quiet two hours were spent at Arcot on Monday with very little on the pond, in the woodland or out in the grassland fields.
A pair of Mistle Thrush fed along the border of Arcot Golf Course and a Grey heron rose up from the small pond on the Golf Course border.
The woodland held Coal, Blue and Great Tits, but these sightings were sporadic and the birds few and far between. A small section of  exposed woodland ground lay swathe to a blanket of Snowdrops. Always a nice plant to see and a great sign of the change in seasons, spring is on her way.

The scrubland behind the woodland wasn't too bad with two Woodcock taking flight, I have yet to see one of these birds before it spots me! In the distance Jay were heard to be calling over towards the golf course and Robin and Jenny Wrens flew throughout the scrub.
The pond had good numbers of Teal, Gadwall and Coot, with a few pairs of Shoveler dotted across the water. The teal took flight as one of Arcots regular predators glided overhead, the majestic buzzard, a bird I see almost every time I visit but a very hard bird to approach as it takes flight when still at a distance.

Buteo Buteo, stunning birds of prey. Why would anyone want to persecute these stunners?!

Teal pair in flight, one of my favourite Duck species.

24th February, 2015

Prior to my visit to Arcot I decided to take a very slight detour to see one of my local Little Owls, and sure as night follows day there it was in the same spot as ever. I've mentioned this Owl on this blog before and without fail its always been in the same spot. Watching from within its stone throne.
You again?

Following my very swift detour I pulled up at Arcot, grabbed my gear and marched on. It was once again very quiet, besides the horse activity. It was this day that sparked my horse related fury, see previous blog if you haven't already done so.

Today was very similar to the day previous with Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Moorhen and Coot on the pond. The usual Gulls and corvids flew to and fro. The grassland were quiet with only a couple Common Snipe taking flight and a Grey Heron Pair stalking the boggy marsh in the South East field, an area the Herons have seemed to favour of late.
I did however find a miniature treat in the form of a young Common Toad, hidden under an old childs mattress. I can't wait until both the Common Frog and Common Toad begin their mass breeding and subsequent spawning and Newts once again take to the water. I gently put the mattress back without disturbance and carried on my way.

On the western edge of the pond the four Deer remained in their usual spot but swiftly seen me and ran like the clappers! I've seen them so often now they should be feeding from my hand!
The woodland was even quieter today than yesterday with nothing but Blackbird and a couple Wren on the woodlands edge.

Hopefully the change of season will usher in a little bit more activity around the patch, but in all honesty this uncertainty is what appeals to me about Arcot. Yeah sure some days you'll go and there will be very little to see but others you can go and there will be an explosion of life or you will chance upon a surprise. A surprise like the Short-Eared Owl I seen as I got out the car last May, stunning views on patch!

So c'mon Arcot whats up your sleeve......I wait in anticipation!

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Shoveler & Gadwall taking flight over the pond.
I took these Fox shots when I visited Arcot a couple of weeks ago. I've only seen a Fox at Arcot twice now.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Wild Horses Couldn't Drag Me Away

Horse anyone? Arcots latest unwanted tenants!! 
I love horses they're majestic, strong and beautiful mammals but like any other captive animal they should be cared for efficiently and in the correct manner. My local patch Arcot Pond & Grasslands on the southern border of Cramlington has become home to a herd of them
  • Who put them there?
  • What For?
  • Do they realise Arcot Grassland is a SSSI (Site of special scientific interest) ?
These horses have been carelessly dumped onto the land at Arcot and are well on course to damage the grasslands, the South West field is by far the worst! Obviously I can't blame the horses themselves, they are after all just doing what comes naturally. I am however, blaming and pointing a very annoyed finger at the person or persons responsible for this reckless semi-abandonment and the authority that has allowed this.
The horses have water so they do still belong to someone and are being looked after to a degree. Therefore I would assume that the owner in question would have sought to gain the relevant permissions from a higher authority to put them on the land.
This means they applied for permission and were therefore successful, which in turn means the relevant authority has gave them the green light to do so! Which if true, really angers and frustrates me!
Why would anyone rightly give permission for eleven horses, a few of which are tethered, free reign over a SSSI grassland. A grassland that holds uncommon species such as;

  • Dyer's Greenweed / Genista tinctoria
  • Adder's Tongue / Ophioglossum vulgatum

The South West field, the smallest of the four, has gone from being an attractive wild grassland meadow to quite literally a muddy quagmire with little vegetation. The areas the tethered horses are is now just large circular areas baron of vegetation.
These horses need removing and fast!!
Don't get me wrong I'm very much a believer in natural grazing strategies and grazing management when done correctly. A prime example being a few years ago when 'The Grasslands Trust' who formerly managed the site used highland Cattle to graze the fields. The problem is this is not a conservation management plan, this is a classic case of natural negligence!

Below is a quote from the Natural England report in regards to the Grassland;

'It supports probably the largest area of lowland species-rich unimproved grassland in North East England. The grassland contains a number of plant species now uncommon in the county. Both this grassland and the heathland are now extremely rare in Northumberland and threatened by agricultural improvement and development.'

The full report can be found here;

This is not the first time I have personally seen horses or other livestock on a SSSI. Last summer I witnessed several horses tethered and occupying the fields above Claxheugh Rock, Sunderland. Whether those horses are still there now remains to be seen as I haven't been to the location since conducting a Wildflower survey on the date in question.

It would be devastating if this species-rich lowland grassland became permanently damaged due to the intense horse grazing and activity. Arcot Pond & Grasslands is my local patch so I have probably taken this matter to heart more than most, but I think regardless of the fact this should not be allowed.
I'm hoping this matter will be resolved swiftly and the grassland can be left to flourish once again!

Nature North East/ The Northern Owl Project

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Lady Of The North & My Thoughts On Opencast Mining

Last week I had time to have a good old rummage around the lady of the North, no I don't mean that as a euphemism, I am of course referring to Northumberlandia located on the western fringes of Cramlington, Northumberland. 
She was created using excess clay, rock and soil from the Shotton surface mine which is located a stones throw west from the landscaped art and was built by The Banks Group, a group surrounded by controversy at the moment due to their proposed plans for an opencast up the coast near Druridge Bay, hence the 'Save Druridge' campaign. 
You may have seen signs up the Northumbrian coast, articles on TV or activity on social networks. The debate goes on and my lack of research into the proper plans and management strategy have left me without a solid opinion either way on that specific proposal. 
Yeah, open casting looks dark and bleak but is it really all that bad? 
The areas of habitat that surround opencasts both active and being restored, play host to a wealth of wildlife species. The rough grasslands, scrubland and plantations which surround Northumberlandia for example are home to a variety of fauna. On my visit I observed Meadow Pipits, Brown Hare, Grey Heron, Skylark and multiple species of birds of prey. Within the plantation I witnessed numerous Woodcock,  multiple Tit species, Goldcrest, Bullfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Song Thrush and Roe Deer tracks.
Kestrel feeding on the plantation edge at Northumberlandia.
Patch Gold! A Cramlington first for me and a treat to see, a Peregrine hunting over the Shotten Opencast. Unfortunately this shot is heavily cropped as the bird was some distance away.
The highlight of my wander around Northumberlandia was the brief view I had of an adult Peregrine flying directly over the working opencast, a bird as stunning and elusive as a Peregrine is clearly unphased by the goings on of a noisy and busy working opencast mine. Is it a sign that perhaps opencasts aren't as bad for our wildlife as some suggest! 

It is evident to me that wildlife does adapt and even thrive in these areas and the rough untamed habitats are ideal for them to flourish, but from a human perspective I will agree that yes they are very noisy locations. The almost constant sounds of digging and drilling echoing from the pit and the eerie booms of regular explosions and the wails of alarm sirens going off at the Shotton Opencast, Cramlington prove this point, but is it a good idea?
That's an opinion that has divided many and is an entirely personal one.

The choice is yours....

Below I have provided a few links worth looking through if your interested in the future of the Druridge opencast, they are however all fairly anti-Opencast. Make of it what you will;

David D
Nature North East/ The Northern Owl Project

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Famous Five

Well I've finally photographed all five species of British Owl with my SLR, some it must be said better than others. Here are a handful of my shots from the past few days.

Tawny Owls At Roost
Two different locations and two very different individuals. The first being a much smaller more rufous coloured bird and the second 'urban' Owl being considerably larger and darker. Both were incredibly confiding and a joy to observe.

Long Eared Owl Pair
I practically walked into these two beauties. Amazing to see them so close and not smothered in scrub and a struggle to find.

Barn Owl Hunting On Patch
Definitely not my finest shot but in near darkness this could have been worse. Great to see Barn Owl activity on patch #2. I have my suspicions as to where it roosts and fingers crossed it has a successful breeding year in 2015. Here's hoping.
I'm thinking a barnie box would be great here, ready for 2016!

Little Owl
Although I did visit a new Little Owl site both today and yesterday, I didn't manage to photograph the birds. A pair of Jackdaw had made the Owls very weary and I only managed to get a fleeting glimpse both days. These two photographs are of the Druridge bird that I never uploaded.

Short Eared Owl
Unfortunately views today of a shortie were very brief, I did manage to get a few shots in. Not my finest by a country mile but just getting to see the bird was a thrill enough.

Nature North East/ The Northern Owl Project

Monday, 9 February 2015

Cheat Day

Yesterday, as the light faded and day turned to night I finally had my first Barn Owl of 2015. I was on one of my local patches and it appeared from a plantation to the west and flew at times within 30 feet. Unfortunately it didn't hang around for much more then five minutes and the lighting wasn't great for photography (understatement) but I did manage a few shots. 
Safe to say these are the best of a truly bad bunch;
So after the excitement of the Barn Owl sighting I wanted a quick fix today, a cheat day if you will. So I drove up the coast and visited a regular Little Owl haunt and as ever noticed the yellow eyed phantom glaring at me from his perch. After a few minutes in his company I headed back towards home and visited one my local Little Owl pairs. 
Only one bird was seen out of the two, buts thats the norm in all honesty at this location.
All in all a relatively straight forward morning and if anything a little bit of a cheat, I do spend a lot of my spare time looking for fresh Owl roosts and hotspots so a cheat day is okay every once in a while.
Tomorrow I'm hoping for the full five species in one day.........wish me luck!

Nature North East/ The Northern Owl Project

"Is he back again?!"